Economic Development, Social Order, and World Politics: With Special Emphasis on War, Freedom, the Rise and Decline of the West, and the Future of East Asia

By Erich Weede | Go to book overview

7

WAR AND PEACE IN
THE CONTEMPORARY WORLD

1. National Decisionmaking Under Systemic Constraints

In the first two sections of Chapter 4, I analyzed interstate rivalry and the resulting risk of war as determinants of the European miracle, or the rise of the West. At that time, war or its background conditions were independent variables. Now war is the dependent variable. In Chapters 2 and 3, rational action was ascribed to individuals, but the discussions of the problems of preference aggregation, of obstacles to the procurement of public goods, of agency, of rational ignorance, and of the strong tendencies toward government failure imply that the idea of rational and unitary action by corporate actors and governments has to be rejected. This rejection is in stark contrast to standard procedures (Grieco, 1990; Stein, 1990) and to one of the leading contemporary theories of war (Bueno de Mesquita, 1981a; Bueno de Mesquita and Lalman, 1992).

The idea that states are rational and unitary actors—or at least that they act as if they were such actors—has been defended by Bueno de Mesquita (1981 a, pp. 19ff.) by reference to the fact that most wars in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were won by the initiators. In my view, this is an extremely weak defense of an unrealistic assumption. First, there is a plausible alternative explanation. If surprise and initiative are force multipliers—as they are (Betts, 1985; Dupuy, 1987)—then there should be some relationship between taking the initiative and winning, even if wars were started by a nonrational process. Second, the relationship between initiative and winning is much weaker than Bueno de Mesquita believes. According to Wang and Ray (1994), such a relationship is supported only for the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, not for the preceding three centuries. Worse still, even within the nineteenth and twentieth centuries only one out of four wars between great powers has been won by initiators. Thus, the "supportive" relationship between initiative and war neither holds across time nor is true for the most important recent wars. A unitary-rational-actor approach to war fails to account for these phenomena. 1

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